Georgia Football: QB Panic Unnecessary, I’m In on Lambert
Earlier this week, I wrote in jest that Greyson Lambert was something of a knight in shining armor for the Bulldogs on the road against Vanderbilt last Saturday. Before that, I wrote a completely sarcastic list of things to love about Georgia’s passing attack. I, like the rest of Bulldog Nation, was shaken and disturbed by what I saw out of Lambert in Nashville last week. But I, unlike many of you, have gained some clarity—or at least some perspective—over the past few days.
With that in mind, I humbly present three reasons to leave your panic behind.
What Do You Want?
I attack Georgia fans regularly for their fickle nature, all-too-quick dismissals of coaching staffs and general fanaticism. I’m not doing that here. Instead, I’m just asking, what do you want of this offense? And I think that’s a fair question at this juncture.
With Mike Bobo at the helm, the Georgia offense vacillated somewhere between prolific and explosive—particularly in the latter years. And much of that came with an emphasis on the passing game. But there was something of a misconception about the “emphasis” Bobo placed on the air attack. And though the pass was used increasingly often to set up the run, with limited exceptions, Georgia did not pass the ball (as a percentage of plays) at a much higher clip than normal for the Mark Richt Era under Bobo’s direction.
From 2001-2006 (before Bobo was handed the reigns), Georgia averaged 30.2 pass attempts per game and 37.4 rush attempts per game. From 2007-2014 (Bobo’s eight full seasons as O.C.), Georgia averaged 29.0 pass attempts per contest and 37.6 rush attempts per game. The reality was not so much that Bobo passed too much (a common complaint) and therefore didn’t run the damn ball enough. More accurately, Bobo adjusted to his personnel and re-tooled which phase of the game was used to frame the other.
He had no problem giving a running back like Knowshon Moreno 20 carries per game and when the backfield featured Moreno and Thomas Brown, Georgia ran the damn ball. Conversely, with relatively weak QB play in 2009, he allowed Washaun Ealey, Caleb King and Richard Samuel to combine for 25 carries per game in 2009 as a viable alternative to Joe Cox. But Aaron Murray was a notch or 12 above Cox, as evidenced by a slew of conference passing records and by 2011 running back was once again an unknown quantity. So Georgia threw the ball a bit more as Isaiah Crowell struggled to stay healthy and as King and Ealey disappeared from Athens (note: Aaron Murray was second on the team in carries that year). In 2012, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall emerged and despite stellar play from Aaron Murray (65% completion, 3900 yards, 36 TDs), Bobo let the ground game do work with 57% of the snaps. In 2013 things got screwy with injuries all around and in 2014 a backfield of Gurley, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel demanded the ball.
The point of this history lesson is this: Mike Bobo had a well-established pattern of calling plays at a rate that fit the strength of his personnel. And those subtle changes were often a bit more well-thought-out than fans would notice in real-time. I think that vested itself in a lot of frustration with Hutson Mason last year. Statistically, Mason did nothing wrong. Anecdotally, Georgia scored a ton of points. It was not merely a fine season for Mason or a “good relative to his skill set” season for Mason. It was a good season. Period.
Mason completed 68 percent of his passed (damn good), tossed 21 TDs and threw only 4 INTs. Those are great numbers. But he threw for more than 200 yards just once all season and thus wasn’t Aaron Murray. So from the outside looking in, outings like he had against Arkansas (10 of 17 passing for 179 yards and two TDs) and Kentucky (13 of 16 passing for 174 yards and four TDs) and even a very good Louisville defense (10 of 15 passing for 149 yards and 1 TD before injury) were overlooked. And those outings became a sadistic version of the “If we don’t have a QB who can throw for 300 yards why are we throwing at all?” narrative. If you need an explainer there, imagine the beating Chubb would have taken if Georgia just never threw the football at all.
Thus far, Brian Schottenheimer seems similarly geared towards playing to his team’s strength. And that strength is with the running backs. Consider the accomplishments of this group as a whole. As of today, these guys represent the following offensive totals:
- Nick Chubb: 1,856 rushing yards, 226 receiving yards, 18 total TDs
- Sony Michel: 507 rushing yards, 215 receiving yards, eight total TDs
- Keith Marshall: 1,113 rushing yards, 197 receiving yards, 13 total TDs
- Brendan Douglas: 592 rushing yards, 167 receiving yards, six total TDs
- Totals: 4,068 rushing yards, 805 receiving yards, 45 total TDs
And consider what these guys have been at their very best:
- Nick Chubb: 266 rushing yards and two TDs vs. Louisville in the Belk Bowl, 10 consecutive 100+ yard outings
- Sony Michel: 10 carries for 155 yards and three TDs vs. Troy in 2014, averaging 103 yards of offense on 11 touches per game this year.
- Keith Marshall: 10 carries for 164 yards and two TDs vs. Tennessee in 2012
- Brendan Douglas: 50+ yards of offense as fourth-string RB in consecutive SEC games vs. Tennessee, Missouri and Vandy in 2013 as a freshman.
So what do you want this year?
I personally want a power running game. I am completely OK with Georgia devoting 2/3 of its offense to the ground attack. And that’s what Georgia is doing. As such, I’m completely OK with a quarterback relying on play-makers in space more so than deep balls way down the field, especially with Justin Scott-Wesley out and an offensive line that is still adjusting to a new blocking scheme. And I think the ground game at Georgia is strong enough and deep enough that even the the threat of Malcolm Mitchell taking a bubble screen to the house or Isaiah McKenzie joysticking a nickel from the slot is terrifying.
Has Lambert Hurt the Ground Attack?
We’re only two games into the season so you can’t really make much of a call. Hell, this whole conversation is probably premature. But thus far, no he has not hurt the running game.
Georgia has run the ball 77 times for 525 yards (6.6 average) and six TDs this season. Statistically, that represents an improvement in rushing TDs per game and yards per carry over last season. Sports-Reference has Georgia’s yards-per-attempt season numbers dating back to the 1950 season. Georgia has never averaged 6.6 yards per attempt. Last year’s 6.1 was the best over that time period. So in that regard, I can’t begin to blame Lambert for a non-existent decline in the ground attack. Sure, the schedule has been light (relatively) but consider Georgia’s ground performance relative to the other opponents of Louisiana Monroe and Vanderbilt:
Georgia ran for 243 yards and four touchdowns with a 6.4 yards-per-attempt average against Louisiana Monroe. LA-Mo allowed just 159 rushing yards on 3.6 yards per attempt and no scores to Nicholls State.
Georgia ran for 281 yards and two touchdowns with a 6.9 yards-per-attempt average against Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt allowed just 37 rushing yards and one score on 1.6 yards per attempt against a prolific Western Kentucky offense.
So again, I feel fine about Georgia’s running game and you should too. After all what’s to dislike about the following individual season numbers?
- Nick Chubb: 35 carries, 309 yards, 8.8 yards per attempt, two TDs
- Sony Michel: 18 carries, 97 yards, 5.4 yards per attempt, one TD
- Keith Marshall: 15 carries, 84 yards, 5.6 yards per attempt, two TDs
But is Lambert Doing Enough to Win?
Frankly, I don’t know. Neither do you. The season is early, but you could still make a case for Vanderbilt’s defense being one in the top-half of the SEC right now. I say that because Vanderbilt has already played one above-average SEC offense (Georgia) and a strong mid-major offense (Western Kentucky) and the Commodores rank 54th nationally in yards allowed per game and 65th in points allowed. Among the SEC Vanderbilt is eighth in yards allowed and two teams above them within the conference have played an FCS school and only three have played a Power-5 opponent.
And despite what was an ugly start, Georgia won on the road. A Georgia win tells me Lambert is doing enough to win. But the more correct question, is can he do enough to win other games against teams that aren’t…well…Vanderbilt.
And that’s in some ways where the divide in sentiment on Lambert comes into play. Everyone—myself included—wants to point to the 0-for-7 start last week, but even in a young season that’s a small sample. That represents exactly 21.2% of his pass attempts this season. Anybody can look bad if we focus on the bottom quintile of their performance. And there’s no reason to think that streak will continue because it’s already over.
Consider Chubb, who has run 35 times. Chubb’s seven worst runs of the year have resulted in a total of -3 rushing yards. Admittedly, it took a while to find those runs and this is a bit of a stretch, but if we’re going to dwell on a player’s worst 20%, then nobody is very good. And I would only be concerned with Lambert’s string of seven consecutive incompletions of that streak was active. As it stands, however, that data is almost as random and inaccurate of Lambert’s performance as saying, “Well Chubb usually averages a loss on his run attempts.”
If we’re going to say, “Greyson Lambert is a guy who will go 0-7 regularly,” then we also need to say, “Greyson Lambert is a guy who is going to connect on 11 of 14 passes regularly late in a game,” because he also did that. And by the way, that’s the more recent sample.
And for final context, let’s look at the whole of Lamber’t season. Thus far he’s 19 of 33 for 257 yards, two TDs through the air, one TD on the ground and no INTs. If we’re being brutally honest that combines to look a lot like an Aaron Murray single game effort. And the numbers actually support that surprisngly well.
Lambert’s quarterback rating is 143.0. That’s better than 16 games Murray, whose ghost still looms large at Georgia, played in as a Bulldog and within five points (virtually nothing in the world of QB rating) of matching matching or besting five more. What does this mean? This means that Lambert’s first 33 passes as a Bulldog yielded results that were statistically on pace with or better than 40% of the games played by the best statistical QB in school history (who happened to average 28 attempts per game).
So I think we’re all foolish if we think we’ve seen the very best Lambert has to offer. He’s at a new school, with a new coordinator getting to know new coaches and adjusting to new teammates. There’s room to grow. Conversely, we may have very well seen his worst already—or something like it.
Does this mean I think Lambert is a guy who will go out and beat teams by himself? No. But even with Alabama and a handful of tough opponents looming, I don’t know that he’ll have to. The passing game was never going to beat Alabama in 2015. Even before we knew who would be under-center, I would have told you that a Georgia passing performance of 300+ yards means something went wrong with the personnel (i.e. Nick CHubb out) or Georgia fell way behind early. If anything, I expect Georgia to lean on its strengths (like the running game of Chubb, Michel and Marshall) even more when the goings get tough. And to be clear, that’s not to say the three-headed monster at running back will be enough to beat Alabama alone, either.
But look at the other teams on the schedule:
- South Carolina lost to a Kentucky QB that threw for 192 yards, 0 TDs and 1 INT. Lambert can do that.
- Tennessee just lost to a QB that completed 19/39 passes for 187 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs. Lambert can do that.
- Missouri struggled against an Arkansas State team that averaged 4.1 yards per pass attempt and threw three INTs. Lambert better not do that.
- The strength of Florida’s defense is its secondary (we thought), and the strength of Georgia’s offense is its ground game. Lambert won’t be asked to do a lot.
- Kentucky struggled against a turnover-prone passer from Louisiana-Lafayette and almost lost to a feverish comeback from a backup at S. Carolina (Perry Orth was 13 of 20 for 179 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT). Lambert can be Orth.
- Auburn made Jacksonville State’s QB look like a baller at times. Lambert might win the Heisman!
- Georgia Tech got their win for the next eight years last year.
A lot of the teams above will improve and so will Lambert. But I’m not in panic mode anymore. The only thing that will get me there is an onslaught of turnovers.
That’s all I got/
Posted on September 17, 2015, in Arkansas, Arkansas, Auburn, Blog, Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs, Kentucky, Missouri, Ole Miss, SEC, South Carolina Gamecocks, Tennessee, The UGA Vault. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.